SAINT PAUL--When Tyler Larson slammed a rebound past Eden Prairie goaltender Andrew Ford at the 10:48 mark of the first period, the 1-0 lead appeared to place the Moorhead Spuds one step closer to its first state championship after six previous runner-up finishes.
But the merriment was short-lived for Moorhead’s ravenous fans as a video review determined that Ford had been interfered with and the goal was disallowed.
Larson’s shot would prove to be the final puck to elude the Eden Prairie sophomore net minder in a 3-0 blanking of the Spuds in the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament’s Class AA championship game on Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
Eden Prairie head coach Lee Smith called the reversal critical to the Eagles capturing their first title in five state tournament appearances.
“From there on out, Andrew was stellar as always but our team just picked it up,” said Smith. “It was like ‘hey that was their shot, we got our break, and we’ve got to move now’ and so all of a sudden the whole team really lifted their game.”
Moorhead coach Dave Morinville, one of the original proponents of the review procedure in the state tournament, agreed with Smith’s assessment and the officials’ call.
“It was the right call so that’s why you have it. It took a long time so it must’ve been close,” said Morinville. “Obviously when you get a goal disallowed it (was) a big turning point and we just didn’t seem to get out of that funk for a while.”
Captain Nick Leddy’s two-point game and poised defensive play guided the Eagles to the title. The University of Minnesota recruit, demonstrated to a state-wide audience for the third consecutive day why he is the leading candidate for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award.
Leddy assisted on Mitch Rogge’s first-period game-winner at 14:26 and devastated the Spuds just 57 seconds prior to the first intermission with a spectacularly-finished end-to-end rush.
Leddy, who fittingly lists former NHL great and current Stillwater boys’ head coach Phil Housley as a mentor, carried the puck out of his own zone, cut cross-ice through the neutral zone, and entered Moorhead territory before unleashing a blistering wrist shot.
With sniper’s accuracy, Leddy’s bullet whizzed past the outstretched glove of Moorhead all-tournament goaltender Logan Marks before denting the upper right corner of the net. Despite his marksmanship, however, Leddy didn’t even realize he had scored.
“I actually thought it went up in the netting (above the end-board glass) and so I was just turning around to go to the bench and I heard the crowd start yelling so I was really surprised,” Leddy admitted.
The senior defenseman who chose to remain home after being courted by the U.S. National Development Team Program clearly doesn’t regret the decision.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Leddy when asked his thoughts on winning the title. “This is a big reason why I stayed, to be with these guys and especially win the state tournament.”
The Spuds battled hard over the final two periods; peppering Ford with 22 shots over that span. But the Eagles forced many of those shots from the outside and Ford was outstanding when called upon.
“You’ve got to give their team defense credit,” said Morinville. “Their goaltender played well but I thought it was their team defense that did a lot of it.”
Leddy’s remarkable poise throughout the tournament was the key to Eden Prairie’s successful team defense and had Smith gushing about his captain’s performance after the game.
“Not only was (Leddy) our best player, but he was also our most unselfish player all year long,” said Smith. “His leadership by doing what’s right and making the right decisions and (his) composure helps settle us all down. You mix that in with a group of sophomores that just refuse to lose and you’re going to have a lot of success.”
Dan Molenaar’s goal from the right point on a feed from Mike Erickson at 9:58 of the third closed the book on Moorhead’s season for all intents and purposes as the Eagles withstood the Spuds’ final push in the waning moments.
Smith, in his post-game comments, was quick to deflect all credit for Eden Prairie’s 28-3 state-championship season to his players.
“I’ve never been around a group that is more close-knit than this group,” said Smith. “This is all to them, this isn’t my day this is their day.”